Monday, February 10, 2014

Apocalypse Now

It’s the beginning of the end. It’s official. The folks at NASA have done all the tests, taken every possibility into account. All the equations add up; the i’s are all dotted, the t’s are all crossed. It’s an inevitability. Come October 3rd, a gigantic asteroid will collide with the Earth, causing a massive chain of apocalyptic events that will lead to the end of the world as we know it.

But Detective Henry Palace is not feeling fine. He has little reason to be. After the world’s end was announced, the world went a little funny in the head. People are leaving their jobs to go “bucket listing”, doing what they’ve always wanted to do. There’s also been an epidemic of suicides, as some people decide they don’t want to stick around for the end and decide on another way to die. People such as the insurance man, Peter Zell, found in the bathroom of a counterfeit McDonald’s, an apparent suicide. But something about this suicide seems a bit off, and Detective Palace is determined to get the full story. It’s not going to be an easy task, because for all intents and purposes, Henry Palace is The Last Policeman.

OK, you got me, that was my lame attempt to incorporate the title of the book into the opening section of my review, which acts as a “teaser” before a “Read More” link. Yes, there are other detectives in the book, but they often don’t feel like it. Many of them are simply going through the motions, content with putting in the minimum effort, because what the hell, the end is here. Others, like Andreas, lose their minds…

In many ways, that is what makes The Last Policeman so intriguing and so unique. It puts its apocalyptic setting to good use, and it gives an interesting picture of what the world might look like if Doomsday were to creep up, known to all. There are no cars on the roads anymore, cell phone reception is getting worse and worse, and groups of anarchists decide that it’s the perfect time to stage a few coups. The military fights fire with fire, and in the end, there’s just a small number of people left trying to carry on with life as though nothing was going to happen.

However, the author, Ben H. Winters, also knows to use the setting for the purposes of the plot. This is a good plot, but one which requires the apocalypse in order to work. Not only does this set the plot into motion, it also helps cover it up in a way. A fully-functional police system, working by the book and under ideal conditions, would probably have discovered some of the important clues that lead to the solution. But in this universe, where a lot of people just don’t care about tomorrow anymore, the end result is that Henry Palace has to go around and be the detective and find all the clues that others have missed.

The plot’s a pretty good one. I will confess, even with the relatively-small cast of possible suspects, I was a bit taken off-guard about the culprit and his motive. (A reminder that I use the pronoun formerly known as “he” out of convenience, and that the killer could be man, woman, child, animal, vegetable, mineral, or any combination thereof.) It was decently hidden. Admittedly, I wasn’t trying my hardest to solve the case – but that’s because of the author’s skill in describing the universe and characters. I was so drawn into the story that I wasn’t trying to logically analyze who might be behind it all. And that’s a sign that the author was doing something right.

Overall, I can really highly recommend The Last Policeman. It’s a solidly-plotted novel with good characters and a fascinating premise. The author manages to craft the universe carefully, leaving you curious for more, and distracting you with all the interesting details about his universe while parading the solution to the mystery under your nose. It’s a very good book and I’m glad I finally read it. Hats off to the author.


  1. I enjoyed this book a lot. So deserving of its Edgar Award. He won for Best First Mystery Novel. Really unique story for crime fiction. I can forgive his lack of getting a handle on real detection, a bit too much of not letting the reader in on the detectives thoughts until he speaks them. He at least tried which is more than can be said of many novice crime writers. The sequel Countdown City is even better and it begins to develop a sort of parnaoia/conspiracy theory plot in additon to the story of the comet's imminent approach. I'm eager for the third and final installment in the trilogy.

    1. John, thanks for the comment. Although the book has some of the weakness associated with a debut mystery novel, it manages to work around them very well, and to be honest, I barely noticed them. This was not just a good book, it was an impressive debut novel, and I'm glad to hear that it gets better in book 2.

  2. I have also read book two and am waiting for the last one to come out this year. Different, but fun.